Turkey perp charges police, gets plugged
On Father's Day last Sunday afternoon, a Chilmark police officer pumped several bullets into a wild male turkey he feared was a threat to public safety.
Chilmark patrolman Jeff Day and Special Police Officer Matthew Gebo responded to a call at 12:26 pm from two people who said the bird attacked them as they tried to deliver rental baby equipment.
The turkey, however, happened to be "Tom," a bird familiar to next-door neighbors Jonathan Haar and his wife, Linda, who had been feeding him since he was an orphaned chick. According to a police report, Mr. Haar's protest over the turkey's death led to an altercation between him and the two police officers, who arrested him on charges of assault and battery and resisting arrest.
"He has legal counsel and it is an open criminal case, so the police report will have to speak for itself," Chilmark Police Chief Timothy Rich said yesterday, when asked for comment on Mr. Haar's charges.
In a written statement, Alissa Keenan of Bear Baby Equipment Rentals said when she and driver Altino DaVila pulled up in their van at 27 Old Ridge Hill Road, they saw a male turkey some distance away in the Haar's yard next door.
As Mr. Altino started taking baby equipment out of the van, the turkey ran up to him and began attacking him without provocation. When Mr. Altino tried to run away, the turkey chased him around the van, Ms. Keenan said.
"I got out to help Altino and it charged me, so I waved my arms like a larger bird and said "Shoo" (it works with seagulls at the beach)," Ms. Keneen wrote. "The bird then came at me aggressively. I ran into the van and the bird turned again to Altino, who also managed to escape into the van."
The two jettisoned the baby equipment they were delivering out the window as the turkey continued to circle the van. Although the renters had not yet arrived, Ms. Keenan called to warn them about the "crazy turkey" and then phoned the Dukes County Communications Center to report the bird, "because it seemed dangerous and possibly sick or rabid."
According to Patrolman Day's report, when he and Officer Gebo arrived and got out of their cruiser, they spotted the two baby strollers and five beach chairs in a heap on the driveway and a female wild turkey on the front lawn. Suddenly a large male wild turkey appeared and charged Patrolman Day. "When it was about four feet from me, it jumped at me and tried to spur me," he reported.
Officer Gebo leapt onto the cruiser's push bumper for protection. Although Patrolman Day made a hasty retreat behind the rental equipment, "The turkey chased me around the pile of chairs three times trying to peck me with its beak," he said.
Patrolman Day then kicked the bird, which backed up and charged him again. He drew his service firearm, a Glock 40-cal semi-auto. "I circled around a few more times to make sure that there were no vehicles, people or buildings in the background. I then fired two shots at the bird. I hit it and it was wounded. It ran from the driveway to the edge of the front lawn."
Patrolman Day took after the turkey on foot and fired two more shots when he was within four feet of the bird, with his gun angled so that the ground would act as a backstop for the bullets, he stated.
"To ensure the wild turkey was killed, Officer Day shot the wild turkey again to effectively euthanize the wild turkey," Officer Gebo confirmed in his incident report.
Although the bird expired, the story continued. Patrolman Day said he heard Mr. Haar and his wife "screaming at us through the woods," asking what was going on. "I replied, 'This is the Chilmark Police and we are taking care of a problem turkey,'" the officer said.
"What are you, an idiot?" Mr. Haar reportedly asked. "Stop shooting my turkeys."
Described as "visibly upset," Mr. Haar approached Officer Gebo with a closed fist and then struck him in the mouth, Patrolman Day said. Mr. Haar allegedly resisted the officers' attempts to restrain him, striking Officer Gebo twice in the chest with his fist and kneeing Patrolman Day in the thigh, according to their reports. They arrested him and placed him in handcuffs.
Patrolman Day said he read Mr. Haar his Miranda rights and asked why he thought the bird belonged to him. Mr. Haar explained about his long history with "Tom."
Mr. Haar was transported to the Dukes County Jail and subsequently charged with two counts of assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. Court officials confirmed yesterday the date for his pretrial hearing is June 30.
Reached yesterday by phone at home, the Haars were cautious about discussing the incident for legal reasons. A principal of the Harbor Planning Group, Mr. Haar and his wife both work in urban and environmental planning. They have lived in Chilmark for about 20 years, he said.
Mr. Haar did take issue with some of the details in the police report. "There were five shots fired - they were fired from the other property but they were fired into our property," he said. "And we were right there," Ms. Haar added.
Mr. Haar continued. "And I was running through the woods when three of the shots were fired, screaming stop, stop, and the officers continued to fire, actually in the direction that I was running, ignoring me," he said. "They never had announced themselves as police until after the second shot . . . "
"When we yelled," Ms. Haar interjected.
"And they never appeared anywhere because they were on the other property - they just started wildly shooting into the woods, 50 feet from our house," Mr. Haar said. "My wife had been putting the laundry out, exactly where they were shooting, about five minutes before." The Haars said they feared for their safety.
Mr. Haar said he is scheduled on the agenda for the Chilmark selectmen's meeting on July 1 and would appreciate town residents coming to discuss what happened.
"Whether or not this turkey was harassing the police, I still don't think that firing shots near people is appropriate, and I think it's very dangerous," Ms. Haar said. "I think under the circumstances, we prefer not to talk about this, because there are serious allegations on both sides, and I think we'll wait until after we have discussions with the police chief, who is a very good and honest man, before talking to the press anymore."
The Haars did question why the police officers did not wait for an animal control officer to arrive. However, Chilmark's dog officer, Chris Murphy, is not an animal control officer and does not handle livestock or wild animals.
Police Chief Rich said the police officers asked the Communications Center to contact Mr. Murphy anyway. He arrived after the turkey was shot and reiterated that he would not have been able to handle the problem.
Although he said he could understand how upsetting the incident was for the Haars, Chief Rich defended the police officers' actions in killing the turkey. "Officer Day happens to be fairly proficient with firearms and has been the lead hunter safety instructor on the Vineyard for the last 8 or 9 years," the chief said. "He knows the game better than most - he also was a tribal [Natural Resources] ranger for 12 years."
Sgt. Jonathan Klaren, the Chilmark Police Department's state-certified firearms instructor, investigated the incident and found Officer Day's discharge of his firearm to be safe and in compliance with the department's policies and procedures, Chief Rich said.
Since the officers were responding to a 911 call about an aggressive animal, if they had left without doing anything about the turkey and it later injured someone, the department would be liable, Chief Rich pointed out. Trapping and relocating a wild aggressive animal is not legal under Massachusetts state law, so that was not an option.
"All things considered, it's a shame that a turkey had to be shot, but at least no humans were injured," the chief said.
Mr. Haar has asked if he could get "Tom" back to give him a decent burial. The bird currently is in the police department's freezer, Chief Rich said. Although he hopes to comply with Mr. Haar's request, he explained, "We're working with the game warden to see what we can do, because legally you can't possess a turkey - dead or alive - unless it's during the turkey season and you have a permit."